Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Perfect Episode, A Mediocre One, Leave "Vol. 5" Of VR-5 Swinging.

The Good: Pacing, Psychological understanding and intrigue of one episode, Imagery, Acting, Character
The Bad: Some plot/character aspects seem contrived and difficult to believe in.
The Basics: When Sydney Bloom has to investigate the mind of a man who might well have killed for hire, her own father issues surface in a great episode of VR.5!

There are very few truly perfect hours of television out there. Honestly, for all of the greatness of many hour-long dramas or comedies (a rare thing, many tend toward dramedy instead of hard one-hour sitcom), there are so few hours that I would actually rate ten out of ten in my pantheon and describe as perfect or effectively perfect. So, it is something astonishing when a little show like VR-5 manages to make a perfect hour, much less two. While the season/series finale manages this bold feat, it also succeeded with a perfect hour with "Simon's Choice," one of the two episodes on "Volume 5" of the VR.5 videos. The other episode, "Send Me An Angel," is less than stellar, but it is not such a poor venture as to make it not worth hunting down this video.

"Simon's Choice" finds Sydney Bloom dealing with a death-row inmate who confessed to a crime which it seems unlikely he committed. Desperate to discover why he might confess and be willing to be put to death, Sydney investigates the circumstances surrounding Simon Buchanan's life and makes parallels to her issues with her deceased father. She soon discovers how Simon was blackmailed and the son he was told was dead is actually still alive, though her attempt to reconcile the two goes in a very different direction than she expects.

"Send Me An Angel" has Sydney returning to the house of her childhood where there has recently been a fire and the neighbor girl was rescued by a mysterious stranger. The neighbor has declared the stranger an angel and insists that Sydney bears a resemblance to her. By trying to interview the girl and pouring through her father's journal, Sydney finds her father's VR lab in the house and makes another important discovery.

"Send Me An Angel" is a necessary evil episode of VR.5. The show is serialized and there are revelations that are coming in the final four episodes that need very much to be foreshadowed. As a result, "Send Me An Angel" has a purpose, one that is revealed near the very end of the episode and it softens the viewer up for what is coming next. The problem is that the episode feels largely contrived around Sydney's realization of what might be the reality of her situation, VR-5, and the death of her father and sister years prior. In other words, the episode has a clear point, it becomes somewhat obvious in fact, but the episode gets there in a roundabout way that is hardly as satisfying as it could be.

This might have, largely, to do with the use of the child actor and the fanatical and awkward anger played by those playing her parents. The episode seems over the top in too many ways. Instead, the end of the piece seems incongruently smart and the episode rings out as a jumble of awkward character issues from the guest characters, poor acting from those portraying them and decent plot and character revelations from the primary cast and characters.

Conversely, "Simon's Choice" is all-around amazing. First, the plot may seem simple, but it is pulled off with panache because of the character struggle that is going on both within Simon Buchanan and his son, Ky, and that of Sydney and Simon and Sydney and her dead father. When VR-5 does something well, it tends to do it on the character front, but with "Simon's Choice," it is the final sequence that sells everything and makes the struggle to save Simon's life one that ultimately is worthwhile.

The thing is, "Simon's Choice" is written for a savvy audience of science fiction fans. The final sequence, when it comes, is obvious in many respects to seasoned fans. And yet, it works. It is a rare thing that a show can pull off something that is both evident to fans and so enjoyable on a character level and special effects level as to make it a great moment of television. "Simon's Choice" manages to do that.

And before that, this is an age old story of the conflicts we carry with us, fathers and sons, daughters and mothers, through the generations and that resonate in our lives and live within us. "Simon's Choice" is surprisingly insightful and does what great television ought to; it informs the viewer of bigger picture issues outside the microcosm of the story and it is a heartfelt story about holding onto hurt and pain and it works beautifully.

Part of the reason for its success is that the characters all work and are intriguing and easy to empathize with. Simon Buchanan is intriguing and tortured and makes for an interesting antagonistic protagonist for Sydney Bloom and the audience to explore. Simon's strength is in his insistence that he live with the consequences of his actions and that level of consistent, strong character is a rare thing to be pulled off so well.

Simon is played by Robert Davi, who has a habit of being cast to play heavies. Here he uses that weight and presence to give Simon a genuine sense of body and inner strength and that works amazingly well for him. Davi brings more than just a deep voice and steely glare to the role, he has the ability to play an undercurrent of anger into every moment he is on screen that leaves the viewer - and Sydney - unsettled and wondering if he actually could be guilty.

It is Lori Singer as Sydney Bloom upon whom the episodes rest and she brings them home. Singer transforms Sydney into a more assertive character who acts proactively instead of reacting to everything around her falling apart. She is intense and clever in the role and it works well for her stand straighter and put more of her body into the role in these episodes. Fans of the entire series will notice the subtle transformations that are occurring in these episodes and those just picking up this tape will likely appreciate how she seems to have a well-rounded character who isn't a whispy wraith.

"Simon's Choice" has some of the most iconic VR-5 images . . . or what would have been iconic images, if only the series had survived and progressed. Sydney's VR experiences with Simon and Ky are appropriately image-filled and laced with psychological metaphors that work wonderfully to establish who each character is and where they are headed. Visually, "Simon's Choice" sets up the revelations coming at the end of "Send Me An Angel," VR deconstructions that will be carried through the series finale!

"Simon's Choice" pushes up the standards of the special effects and they make the episode surreal, clever, witty and satirical alternatively. The episode represents one of the best episodes this brief series ever created and it is one that anyone who likes a psychological thriller will like. Fortunately, it is not so esoteric to the universe of VR-5, that people who have not seen prior episodes will be lost.

[Sadly, even with VHS being essentially a dead medium, the VR.5 DVD set is out of print and hard to come by. Still, for those interested in it, please check out my overview of the entire series available by clicking here!

“Simon’s Choice” – 10/10
“Send Me An Angel” – 4.5/10
VHS – 7/10

For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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